When the Cleveland Cavaliers re-signed Caris LeVert via two-year, $32 million deal in the opening period of NBA Free Agency, it was not necessarily a bargain. There are still concerns with LeVert, and he took some time to get going last season.
Post-All-Star break in the 2021-22 campaign after he was acquired via trade from the Indiana Pacers near that deadline, he was not able to establish a rhythm because of a foot injury, and generally, took his lumps. That couldn’t have led to optimism heading into last season, particularly after Cleveland would eventually give up two draft picks for him.
LeVert looked somewhat out of sorts early on and had his inconsistencies last season as a scorer overall as well, as he had 12.1 points per outing, which was tied for his second-lowest scoring average of his career.
For much of the 2022-23 campaign, LeVert had his share of struggles inside the arc, too, as evidenced by him shooting 46.2 percent from two-point range last season. That was his second-worst shooting clip in his career from two, and his mid-range feel was off.
Fortunately, as last season wore on, and LeVert’s role shifted to being more so a sixth man/key bench player, he was able to get more comfortable. Also, while it was naturally going to be an adjustment for him playing in stretches more off the ball, with the trade arrival of Donovan Mitchell last offseason, LeVert did have a very encouraging season in that sense.
LeVert hit a career-best 39.2 percent of his three-point attempts last year, and his cutting feel and timing in playing off of others got better as last season progressed.
Along with that element, LeVert deserves his credit for his defense last season. It was reasonable to skeptical about him on that end, but he was clearly fully bought-in there, played much better defense on the perimeter than anybody could’ve expected, and his team defense and hustle on both ends was impressive.
So, even with LeVert’s deal maybe being a slight overpay at this stage, given his injury history and it being fair to believe his three-point shooting might come down, for LeVert, the focus should be to be Cleveland’s bench leader and to be playing the all-around game.
LeVert’s continual focus should be predicated on being well-rounded for the Cavs.
Make no mistake, the Cavaliers do need LeVert to give their bench offensive pop. He’s played his share of time over the course of his career both in starting and bench roles, and from here, he should be much more acclimated with Cleveland.
It’s not simply about filling it up as a scorer and iso player for him with this iteration of the Cavaliers, though. With the Cavs bringing in the likes of Max Strus and Georges Niang, that should give their perimeter shooting efforts a notable boost, and while LeVert needs to get his to some degree, Cleveland should still benefit from his playmaking abilities.
LeVert’s passing was a constant last season, and going forward, hopefully he’ll continue to be an impactful ball-mover in his minutes on the floor, even in varying lineups. He had 3.9 assists per contest last season, his career average, but with him playing off-ball for legitimate stretches, that was notable, and one would assume playing with better shooting with guys like Niang should only make LeVert’s passing all the more hopeful.
Along with the offensive playmaking and off-ball play, as we previously alluded to, LeVert being an impactful defensive presence again would go a long way for Cleveland.
Now, there’s inherently going to be some matchups against bigger wings and forwards where LeVert will have some problems. That said, against a number of guards and wings last season, he did do a respectable job, and if the effort is continually there from him in his minutes on that end, it will help set the tone for the Cavaliers defense.
LeVert’s team defensive activity was a positive last season as well, and was something that popped in the closing stretch of the year prior to the playoffs. He was tied for the Cavs’ team lead with 25 steals post-All-Star break, and his timing and anticipation there will have to be on-point for the Wine and Gold from here. That playmaking will help the defense as a unit, and could lead to more transition chances going the other way.
So, to reiterate, the key for LeVert has to be playing the full game, and doing the little things on both ends of the floor. His efficiency will probably fluctuate somewhat as a scorer, but if he can affect games in the all-around sense for Cleveland, that’d go a long way, including in the playoffs.